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It’s no secret that Pilates and dance have a long history together. Although Joseph Pilates worked with and developed cross-training exercises specifically for many different types of athletes, including boxers, soldiers and circus performers, it was his relationship to ballet and his protégée Romana Kryzanowska that solidified Pilates into the method that we know today.

Romana, who was a ballet dancer herself, worked extensively with Joseph Pilates. At one point in her career she suffered an ankle injury; this first meeting turned into years of work and development with Mr. Pilates on his method of “contrology”.

Related: here to sign up for a complimentary Pilates session!

Pilates in Practice

Although Pilates rightfully believed his method to be fitting for every body, dancers seemed to benefit especially from his “contrology” method. From years of stretching, external rotation of the legs from the hips, knees, and ankles, and dynamic ranges of motion, dancers are left with highly flexible muscles and joints.

While these physical attributes may be aesthetically pleasing, they leave the dancers’ body compromised – much like many sports. Joseph Pilates’ method is built on 4 principles that start with s: stretch, strength (muscular), stamina and stability. While most dancers have “stretch” nailed down, it’s the other three “s’s” that dancers need and get through cross-training: strength, stamina and stability.

Related: read the account of this instructor’s life-changing transformation through Pilates, pre and post-hip surgery.

Aiding with Injury

Because of the work that dancers do, they are at risk for many injuries. Injury is a part of the life of the dancer. Women who dance en pointe struggle often with foot and ankle issues, and any dancer who jumps frequently may struggle with Achilles tendonitis. Many male dancers have to lift other dancers, sometimes fully lifting another dancer’s body weight over their head, in a move called “Le Grande Pressage”. These dancers often struggle with lower back issues after years of lifting in rehearsals and during performances.

Pilates can help these performing professionals overcome and safeguard themselves from these injuries. The Pilates workout is a core-distal workout, which means the exercises work from the core muscles out to the extremities. Dancers (and any person, really) benefit from this workout by strengthening the core muscles which help to align the skeleton properly, which in turn makes everything else in the “system” (the body) work as it should.

Cross-Training Claim to Fame

As athletes strengthen themselves from the center out, all of their movements become more economical, thus creating a way of moving that reduces the stress incurred on the body and reducing injury. It is this cross training that not only dancers, but athletes (especially professional athletes like baseball and hockey players), runners, golfers and many others have come to depend on for minimum physical risk and maximum reward.

Post written by FFC Lincoln Park Pilates Instructor Wade Schaaf.

About Wade

Wade Schaff FFC Lincoln Park Pilates instructorWade Schaaf is a certified Pilates instructor, a certified RedCord instructor and is also a Pilates teacher trainer in the Classical Pilates Formula FFC program.

He specializes in all types of work, with a focus on Pilates for athletes and dancers, and Pilates for injury, recovery, and especially back injury. Want to set up a complimentary Pilates session at FFC? Email him at wschaaf@ffc.com!

You probably know of martial arts, but do you know why they are important? Or how they relate to fitness and wellness? Martial arts require an understanding of the properties of balance, stability, strength and mental discipline. When we exercise, many of us become stagnant because of repetitive routines that do not challenge the body and mind accordingly. Not long ago, I was stuck in this same fitness routine and series of workouts. Some that even went beyond the typical exercise routine, which I felt were important for my body, aimed at every muscle group and functioned in all three planes of the human movement system.

Still, I plateaued, and even after throwing in a couple days of yoga, I felt as if I was not making headway toward my goal of not only looking better, but more importantly, feeling better.

Related: think you can’t handle yoga? Think again! Yoga is for everyone, even “inflexible dudes”. Check out this post!

Meanwhile, I was in the middle of a semi-professional football career with the Chicago Thunder. The competition was getting more intense, especially as I was getting older and having a harder time recovering from games and fighting through injury. This is when martial arts – more specifically Hapkido – became a part of my life.

I went into it knowing it would be difficult, but something I could handle. Soon I would realize the intricacies, subtle details, and principles were much more difficult to perceive than expected. This showed me how much I truly did not understand about the human movement system.

Fast-forward to the point where I had completed a few years of training. After all the breathing techniques, throwing, punching, kicking, joint manipulation, and many many falls, my body was not only stronger, but also more flexible. I also recovered much more quickly from workouts than I had in the past.

Related: want to see how a personal trainer can take your workout to the next level? Try a free session out on us! Click here.

How Does Martial Arts Help With Fitness and Wellness?

Martial Arts IS a form of training. You DO have a program and it IS about consistency. The more I practiced movements based on Hapkido forms and techniques, the better grasp I was getting on balance, stability, and controlled strength. There were many smaller groups of muscles I was not using that were leading to imbalances within the larger groups of muscles and, as a result, poor length tension relation between muscle synergies.

The difference in my human movement system was felt right away – especially in my football games. Not only did I have a greater knowledge of how to move more freely and efficiently, but I also understood how I could use other people’s force and energy to increase my own.

This truly helped from the competitive standpoint. I became one of the best receivers in Chicago Thunder franchise history and finished my career becoming a first team inductee into the Mid States Football Leagues Hall of Fame.

Martial Arts: The Real-Life Application

To be clear, I am not saying before I started practicing martial arts I was a terrible football player. What I am saying is I was able to use the movements, principles, and even philosophies of Hapkido and apply them to my life activities.

This challenged my body in new and foreign ways that the brain and muscles love. It showed me how much there is to learn about how to move efficiently and the benefits of free motion. So essentially, practicing martial arts was not only beneficial for playing an organized sport, but in everyday life situations (including dangerous ones).

Self defense is a difficult topic to discuss for anyone because it assumes the worst of a situation. The first step is to admit that bad things do happen. The next step is to prepare the best we can for different types of aggression and lastly, how to avoid them in the best way we can. This is where many students gain confidence. Feeling like you are strong enough and smart enough to deal with violent situations is empowering. To feel safe is priceless.

Most importantly, the use for martial arts is perfectly applicable to the human movement system. When practicing any martial art, you must perform movements in all three planes of motion. You can only gain proper form when you have control, balance, and stability during all planes of motion. The constant flow of forms promotes functional movement patterns, strength, and flexibility.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, I think everyone should experience some form of martial arts in their lifetime. I believe it to be an important part of anyone’s fitness regiment to incorporate some kind of martial art, whether it be formal or informal. Everyone can benefit from it because it trains the mind and body holistically and teaches us to feel more confident in our abilities to defend ourselves. If you’d like to learn more or try out some kickboxing, email me at aroldan@ffc.com.

Post written by FFC Lincoln Park Personal Trainer Andres Roldan.

I’m sure you’ve seen it all over the web: “unbalanced cortisol levels lead to weight gain.” This can be incredibly frustrating if you are in a deficit-related program trying to lose weight for a healthier lifestyle, or even if you have another goal (like an upcoming weight lifting competition). What is a deficit? A caloric deficit is burning more calories than your body requires. Knowing how to manage, maintain and avoid your triggers will go a long way in helping you achieve your goals through nutrition and hormone maintenance. And prevent a cortisol crash.

So How Does Cortisol Tie Into All Of This?

Simply put, cortisol is a hormone released in the body via the adrenal gland. The adrenal glands are small glands located on the top of each kidney. They produce hormones that we cannot live without – one being cortisol.

Cortisol helps you respond to stress and has many other important functions. Your body’s cortisol levels increase when adrenocorticotropic hormones are released from your pituitary gland. Without getting into a lot of science, essentially, when a person is put under excess amounts of stress (whether it be physical or mental), the body produces more cortisol, attempting to calm you down.

How does this relate to nutrition? Another key purpose of cortisol is to help the body metabolize and use sugar and fat for energy. Having an excess amount of cortisol in the bloodstream and body can lead to weight gain, immune system issues, blood sugar imbalance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, low testosterone in men and fertility problems.

Related: want to set up a free 30-minute nutrition consultation with one of FFC’s on-site registered dietitians? Click here!

How to Balance Your Cortisol Levels

It’s safe to say that we want to keep this hormone as level as possible and prevent a cortisol crash! If you believe that you have chronically elevated cortisol levels, there are a few tips and tricks you can implement to help overcome this unwanted hormone excess. Lowering your cortisol can be accomplished relatively quickly.

Here are 4 tips that you can implement today to prevent cortisol crashing quickly and easily:

Up your magnesium intake.

Whether you get this through food or an Epsom salt bath, upping your magnesium intake will go a long way to improve your cortisol levels.

Get more sleep.

The obvious one – getting enough sleep helps your body restore and ensure you’re ready for another day of hard work.

Related: food can help you regulate your mood! Avoid mood swings with these nutrition tips.

Limit your blue light exposure.

Try to avoid blue light 1-2 hours before bed. Blue light comes from cell phones and televisions. Being exposed to blue light inhibits your body from creating melatonin, a naturally produced sleep aid, and can lead to getting less sleep, which is important for balancing your cortisol levels.

Eat regularly.

Eating frequent meals will help to keep your blood sugar level even throughout the day. Make sure to grab a bite/healthy snack every 2 – 4 hours.

Post written by FFC Lincoln Park registered dietitian Sarah Sobotka.

About Sarah

Sarah is a registered dietitian at FFC Lincoln Park. She is a credentialed professional who is inspired by the science of nutrition, passionate about advancing her knowledge in the field, and committed to promoting the RDN credentials.

She believes in the power of food, fitness, and having a good lifestyle balance. She aspires to serve as a guide to her clients & make positive differences in their lives. She loves to work out and be active, whether playing sports, rollerblading in the sun, or riding her bike to enjoy new delicious restaurants around the neighborhood.

 

Before my back surgery in June 2016 for a herniated disc, I weighed in at 200 pounds. On my 5’4” frame, the extra weight was destroying my health. The year before, I had sustained not one, but two herniated discs in my lower back.

Although I did physical therapy, I had no relief from the agonizing pain and had to take painkillers to make it through the day. On top of that, one of the herniated discs was crushing a nerve and I had to have an operation. After the surgery my doctor told me, “I’ll be seeing you this time next year to remove the second herniated disc if you don’t lose weight.” I was terrified.

After 9 weeks of recovery and 12 weeks of physical therapy, I decided I had to make a change. I started out by cleaning up my diet, counting calories, and most of all, swimming. I immediately fell in love with the water. When I was swimming, my problems simply floated away with each stroke.

I saw results quickly, but was hesitant to do anything else. I added resistance to my swims with paddles and flippers, but it wasn’t enough. I was afraid that I would further injure my back or get another herniated disc  if I tried anything with too much impact. I knew that if I didn’t have guidance I would never venture to other parts of the gym.

I started personal training sessions. My personal trainer has been absolutely invaluable to my health and fitness journey. Not only did he show me the ropes around the entire gym, he personalized all my workouts to help me strengthen all the muscles that will help prevent further injury to my back.

With his help I’ve gained the confidence to explore the gym and utilize all features of it! It no longer frightens me. It has become a playground to traverse and challenge myself.

Related: try out a personal training session at FFC, on us! Click here.

With my new confidence I started to take up hobbies I never thought I would. I now rollerblade, kayak, and do standup paddle boarding. The other week I rollerbladed 14 miles just because I could!

I also started to see the onsite registered dietitian to “up my game.” Though I’ve lost 60 pounds in the last year, I no longer fret over the number on the scale as much. With my dietitian’s help, I now focus on my body fat percentage and measurements instead.

The weight loss hasn’t been the biggest reward, though. I now have a completely new perspective on life. The world is an unpredictable place that can throw anyone a curve ball at any time. Despite this, I have complete control over my diet, exercise and the choices I make.

Related: how FFC helped me make a doctor-recommended lifestyle change.

No matter what happens I have the final say about what I eat and how I exercise. I take fierce pride in my accomplishments. Weight loss has been a wonderful result of my journey but the best award has been that the cultivated discipline and skill power have changed all aspects of my life for the better.

FFC is not just a place I go to work out. It’s a sanctuary where I get to practice all the new things I’ve learned. The people at FFC are like family. If I don’t come in, I am missed. Staff ask me with genuine concern if I’m ok. It’s a great feeling to not only see familiar faces every day, but to be one too.

Post written by FFC Lincoln Park member Kristy D.

Adulting is hard. No one can prepare you for the challenges the real world brings. And I’m not just ranting about the fact that my actions may now have heavily-weighing consequences if made in haste, or that I have long-term retirement savings goals to plan for. Now there are decisions I have to make in real time, every day, as simple as eating better as a lifestyle choice and making an effort to keep to a fitness routine five days a week. I’m realizing that how I treat my body will have a direct impact on how I face each day.

Knowing When It’s Time for a Change

This year, I started a new chapter in my life. My life took a dramatic change of course which forced me to confront many things which I had swept under the rug for a long time. One by one, I dropped bad habits permanently and refocused my perspective because I knew that I had to develop a healthier outlook in terms of food and body image.

Those new, refocused habits include sleeping eight hours every night, eating right, reducing stress and asking for help in my workout. Working in the fashion industry, before this chapter, I’d started to think the norm was being rail-thin like the models. I was constantly doing cardio, which kept me thin but I had no energy to take on the challenges in my life. Although I’d always been ambitious and driven for success, I had trouble building on that success because physically, I was deteriorating. And I couldn’t keep up in the race of the hustle because I was exhausted.

Joining FFC Lincoln Park was the thread that tied all of the positive changes into my life together and helped me get back into a fitness routine. Admittedly, it was intimidating thinking about going back to a gym where everyone seemed very serious about their workouts. After meeting some of the staff on day one, though, that angst quickly flew out the window.

I’d never met such a supportive and welcoming team of people at a gym before. And this time, I was going to utilize all of the amenities, incorporate strength training into my daily regimen, and actually sign up for the one-on-one training sessions. From the first day, I knew I had made the best decision I could to have something to work at for myself.

What Happened When I Introduced a Trainer Into My Fitness Routine

FFC Lincoln Park personal trainer Kara Mraz was assigned to be my trainer for the free new join sessions which would give me the opportunity to earn my sign up fee back in FFC bucks. We sat down for a consultation and I explained that I was on the pathway to be dedicated to a year of success and prosperity.

What I wanted were fitness routines to incorporate into my daily regimen. I didn’t want an intense workout simply to lose weight or focus on one part of my body. I needed to strengthen every part of me and be able to accept the changes that would follow, even if that meant I would gain weight in muscle.

Kara knew exactly what to do and put me to work right away. She pushed me beyond the limits of what I was comfortable with, and helped me realize that there is no such thing as failure. If I couldn’t do all of the reps, I’d do them until I couldn’t do any more. And then I’d be driven to work out harder the next time around. She was always encouraging me, creating fun workout routines that made the hour fly by so quickly I’d hardly notice my time with her was up.

In her follow-ups, she’d ask how I was feeling, if I was seeing progress and whether I was happy with the workouts she created. Every time, I could honestly say I was seeing immediate results and that I couldn’t wait for the next session with her. While working with Kara, I also got to know the rest of the Lincoln Park team, who now are always shouting out support when they see me working out on my own. How awesome is that?

Related: skeptical about how a personal trainer will help you? Check out this recent post!

Healthy Habits Are Here to Stay

After just one month back in a fitness routine, I was right on track with where I knew I wanted to be. I looked better than before, felt healthier and full of energy, and I woke up every day with the ambition to make the most of my day. And not to mention, I had Kara, the FFC Lincoln Park team and my boyfriend at the gym, encouraging me to keep up the pace.

Before I knew it, my sessions were up. I can say I was pretty sad that I wasn’t going to be seeing Kara regularly at the gym anymore. With her help and her positive outlook in life, she’s set a great example for me: to be strong in my approach in life and tackle the obstacles that come my way. I am in charge of my own life, and I set the benchmarks to surpass to become a better person. So I have to ask, what’s stopping you? Join me in this beautiful journey of life and take the next steps to become what you want to become. Onward and upwards.

Post written by FFC Lincoln Park member Grace P.

Try FFC for free in Chicago

You shouldn’t have to sacrifice a well-deserved night out just because it can wreak havoc on your diet! However, it can be tough to find those delicious AND healthy restaurants when you want to dine out. Have no fear, we’ve compiled a list of some of the hottest hangouts in the area; check out these 5 healthy restaurants in Lincoln Park!

Summer House – 1954 N. Halsted St.

Escape the winter blues and find yourself on the beach! Well, not quite, but this California-style American restaurant is like a beach house transplanted from its sister restaurant in Santa Monica.

The wood-fired grill cooks up menu items spotlighting seasonal, locally-sourced products. Check out the bakery counter on your way out for pastries, muffins and Lettuce Entertain You chef and partner Jeff Mahin’s famous cookies.

Healthy menu items that catch this RD’s eye:

  • Roasted Beets with Grapefruit Aioli
  • Wood Grilled Mahi-Mahi Tacos with Guacamole
  • Quinoa and Forbidden Black Rice Bowl with Green Curry and Local Veggies

BOKA – 1729 N. Halsted St.

If you have a special occasion coming up, consider this Michelin Star winning gem. Cozy up in a booth and enjoy the eclectic decor while enjoying beautifully executed dishes and craft cocktails.

Healthy menu items that catch this RD’s eye:

  • Heirloom Carrots with Pistachio, Amaranth and Smoked Goat Cheese
  • Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Pears and Sunflower Seeds
  • Coffee and Hazelnut Whole Milk Ice Cream

 

Try FFC for free in Chicago

 

Blue Door Farm Stand – 2010 N. Halsted St.

This farm-to-table café and artisan’s market, named for Oprah’s former Indiana property, prides itself on featuring fresh, seasonal food and drinks from local farms and farmers’ markets, including Chicago favorites Harvest Juicery and Bow Truss Coffee Roasters.

In addition to offering a catering service, the Blue Door Farm Stand can accommodate private events, offers takeout and local delivery. Lactose intolerant? You can order almond milk in your latte.

Healthy menu items that catch this RD’s eye:

  • Sweet Potato Hummus
  • Baked Parmesan Kale Chips
  • Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Kale Salad with Maple Tahini Dressing

Related: how a plant-based diet helped this group exercise instructor and personal chef overcome food addiction.

Café Ba-Ba-Reeba – 2024 N. Halsted St.

You don’t have to leave your kids at home when you go to “Chicago’s Original Tapas Bar.” They have a children’s menu, as well as a complete gluten-free menu, including dessert. On Tuesdays take advantage of half-off Spanish wines, or half-priced craft cocktails on Mondays.

Menu items that catch this RD’s eye:

  • House Marinated Spanish Olives
  • Wood Oven Roasted Veggies with Toasted Pine Nuts
  • Seared Sea Scallops with Leeks and Torched Oranges

Dawali Mediterranean Kitchen – 1625 N. Halsted St.

This inexpensive BYOB place has something for everyone, including vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, and gluten-free options.

Some health-conscious plates to consider:

  • Lentil Soup
  • Grilled Veggies with Curry Sauce
  • Falafel Plate with Hummus and Tahini Sauce

So look for these items which won’t undo all of your hard, healthy work because social health plays a role in your overall wellness too!

*Note: All menu items subject to change

Post written by FFC contributor.